As Pahrump residents know, water is a precious commodity in their community. And Pahrump is, after all, a Southern Paiute word meaning "water stone."
Water is an essential element in politics as well: not the kind you drink, but the kind one fellow carries for another.
Has acting state Republican Party Chairman Paul Willis of Pahrump been carrying indicted Nye County brothel owner Maynard "Joe" Richards' water?
Heavens no, Willis says.
Although he's a proud friend and supporter of Richards, who is under federal indictment on suspicion of wire fraud in a case tied to the alleged bribery in 2005 of then-Nye County Commissioner Candice Trummel, Willis has repeatedly stated that his relationship has never been compensated: not when he was a member of the Pahrump Town Board, and not in his capacity as a senior official with the Nevada GOP.
Although he admits he has a few enemies in the Pahrump community and the Republican Party, his conscience is clear.
Problem is, Willis has a well-documented history of supporting Richards' whorehouse development agenda.
Richards has long wanted to open a brothel in the southern end of Pahrump, but has been unable to do so because of a town ordinance limiting such businesses to an island outside the city limits. Richards is in trouble with the federal government in part because he attempted to induce Trummel into "rewriting" the ordinance to open it up to his development plans.
He paid Trummel, who was cooperating with the FBI, $5,000 in 2005, according to the indictment.
It wasn't the first time Richards had tried to bring a legal brothel into the city. Back in November 2000, his attorney, David Polley, was rejected by the Town Board in his attempt to amend Pahrump Town Ordinance No. 3, which sets the parameters of the prostitution racket. Critics of Richards' plan produced a petition with 222 signatures, the Pahrump View reported.
Willis was outspoken in that meeting.
"Pahrump has 30,000 people," he said. "This is not a fair representation of the entire town. It's as much about freedom as anything else. The religious right doesn't have the only freedom in the country."
Richards was nothing if not persistent, and in 2005 his representatives were back before the Town Board with another attempt to redefine "freedom" as most folks understand the word.
In May 2005, Willis took the jaw-dropping step of writing a letter to the Pahrump Valley Times explaining his argument behind the proposed changes to the brothel ordinance. The letter reads like a Joe Richards press release.
"Unfortunately, there is a misinformation campaign out there, cranked up in high gear, to intentionally spread unwarranted hysteria and fear," he wrote. "Educate yourself; without the amendment, the town will be responsible for all services in this area, but will not enjoy the revenue."
It's not every day a politician writes a letter defending the position of a whorehouse owner, not even in Nevada.
That June, the Town Board voted just 3-2 to keep brothels outside the city limits. The measure failed despite the best efforts of the amendment's co-sponsor, Paul Willis. When Willis saw the measure failing, he tried unsuccessfully to table the matter.
Although he said the issue was really "all about revenue for the town," some cynics suspected he was carrying Richards' water. Richards is the owner of record of the Mabel's Ranch, Cherry Patch Ranch and Cherry Patch II brothels and the Kingdom strip club and massage parlor.
While skeptics surely snickered, Willis swore he wasn't working for the benefit of Richards but for the people of Pahrump.
Perhaps it was also for the benefit of the people that he tried unsuccessfully to ram through a plank that would prevent the Nye County Republican Party Central Committee from endorsing an incumbent who had cooperated with the federal government against a Pahrump businessman.
Now Willis is the acting chairman of the state Republican Party. And he has refused to resign his position under pressure from his GOP critics and the perceived pressure from me.
Let me make one thing clear, Mr. Willis. I'd sooner draw water from a stone than ask you to resign. Please, stay right where you are.
I call the unabashed friendship between the chairman of the state's Republicans and the indicted owner of a whorehouse a natural fit.
• John L. Smith's column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal's Opinion page. E-mail him at email@example.com or call (702) 383-0295.